Episode 277: Aisha Blake

Aisha Blake is a web developer for Detroit Labs in Detroit, Michigan.

You might not think of Detroit as a city for tech, but web developer Aisha Blake is helping change that perspective. She works as a web developer for Detroit Labs, fosters the next generation of tech speakers through Detroit Speakers in Tech, and her story of what drew her to the city is one that you've gotta hear.

Aisha and I talked about how a goalball tournament was the catalyst for her journey to Detroit, how couchsurfing opened up her up to an entirely new community, and she shared the the one piece of advice which has helped her accomplish so much in life in such a short amount of time. According to Aisha, we all need to feel comfortable with trying new things, and I think you'll come away from this conversation feeling inspired to do just that!

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Transcript

Maurice Cherry: All right, so tell who you are and what you do.

Aisha Blake: My name is Aisha Blake. I am a web developer for a company called Detroit Labs. We are, as you may have guessed, located in Detroit. We do a lot of mobile apps, but I am actually a web developer by trade, I guess. I work on some pretty exciting stuff here. I am also the chapter leader, one of the chapter leaders for the Detroit chapter of Girl Develop It, which is a national nonprofit. We teach women to code in affordable, accessible workshops and I recently this year co-founded a meetup called Detroit Speakers in Tech, and we really train and support diverse people who are interested in either beginning to speak, meetups, conferences or just improve their presentation skills in general.

MC: Wow! Now, I know that Detroit kind of has this...I don't know, there's like a stereotype about Detroit that I really don't like. I mentioned this before we started recording. I have family in Detroit. Like a lot of my mom's side of the family lives in Detroit and I feel like the city always just gets like a bad reputation for being run down or corrupt or all this sort of stuff. You being in the city, what is it that people need to know about Detroit that you think they're getting wrong?

AB: Oh my gosh. There's they're getting a lot wrong, I'll tell you that! I've been here for about five and half years now and there is just so much happening. There's so much to learn here. That's honestly what drew me back to the city. My first night here was actually after a goalball tournament which we can talk about later if you'd like. Goalball in short is a sport for blind and visually impaired athletes. One of the biggest tournaments in the country is actually right outside Detroit. I stayed a night later and got to know a little bit about the city and I was just like immediately I fell in love.

I didn't think that that was possible. I was living in New York City at the time. I was like "this is the greatest city ever. I'm never going to leave." And I was totally wrong. And just in the time that I've been here, there's so much [that] has changed. There's obviously a lot of investment coming into certain neighborhoods and that has really fueled a lot of entrepreneurship. A lot of innovation particularly in the tech industry. There are all of these other groups, all of these communities, all of these neighborhoods who are kind of taking advantage of that momentum and using it to build the things that they need because it's not necessarily being fairly distributed by any stretch.

MC: Sounds like there's like a lot of momentum I guess in general, right?

AB: Yeah, absolutely. There's an incredible amount of it. This still feels like a place where if there's something that you see a need for, you can start it.

MC: Okay. It's a very...what's the word I'm looking for? I guess fertile kind of community I guess.

AB: Yeah. That's a good word. I like it.

MC: With the work that you're doing at Detroit Labs, can kind of just tell me like what's a typical day like for you there?

AB: It really depends on the team that you're on. Right now, I am on one of our web teams and we do a lot of metrics. I deal a lot with the data side of things, but it's a lot of graphs and charts and tons of data. For me, when I come in, I'll work for a little bit. Most of our teams do some form of an agile workflow. My team will start with a stand up in the beginning of the day and then depending on the flow that we've kind of settled on, I might pick up a card or we might have cadence meetings. One thing that I really love about Detroit Labs is that we are really empowered to kind of guide our own professional development. There are a lot of sort of subgroups that will meet throughout the month. I'm part of an accessibility work group that meets monthly. I'm part of a group of web developers that will meet and discuss articles and that sort of thing. And then at the end of our two week sprint, our team in particular will demo with the client over the phone, or rather over video conference, and we'll demo what we've done that sprint and kind of level-set on expectations for the next one.

MC: And you say that Detroit Labs mostly kind of builds mobile apps, is that right?

AB: That's correct. Mostly. Though I've noticed we're definitely open to other forms of work, and like I said, I actually have very little mobile experience. My project is entirely web based. We've also done a number of sort of like cool experimental things that I can't talk about. If you are kind of in the space where you aren't sure whether a thing can be done, you could also come to Detroit Labs and have some really, really incredibly intelligent and creative people try and make it work. Honestly, chances are they probably will make it work.

MC: Well yeah, I imagine if you've got Labs in the name, there's going to be a good bit of experimentation going on. Do you all work on projects that are mostly about Detroit or about the city? Or do you have clients kind of all over?

AB: No, we have clients all over. The big one that people talk about a lot is Domino's Pizza. That kind of national reach I guess. But we do also work...we mostly work with larger companies, but we've done a number of projects with smaller ones. It just kind of depends on the scope and the budget. But not necessarily Detroit-based.

MC: And how long have you been there now?

AB: I've been at Detroit Labs for about a year and a half.

MC: Okay, so still not super new but new enough, kind of?

AB: Yeah. I definitely still feel like I'm in the Academy from Star Trek.

MC: I know how you feel. I've been now at my current job for pretty much about a year now and we've brought on new people since then. I think we've brought on maybe about seven or eight people since then, but I still feel sort of new in the grand scheme of things. I know what you mean. It's that kind of weird feeling like you know enough to teach new people, but not enough to be seasoned yet I guess.

You mentioned being in New York City and you mentioned this goalball tournament and how that made you fall in love with the city. I was just sort of curious: in general, what made you want to stay in Detroit after that? What really brought you here?

AB: The initial night in Detroit was spent couch surfing. I stayed in Corktown, and it happened to be a Sunday that Detroit Soup was happening. Detroit Soup is like a monthly community dinner. That's the citywide Soup where four people will, or four people or organization,s will present a project. You as an attendee have the opportunity to come in. It's kind of a pay-what-you-can. There's a suggested donation that you pay at the door and you come in. You get to sit and chat and meet people. You hear the pitches and you also get to hear, I think it's 30 seconds from everybody who has donated food for the evening. And then, you go and you eat your dinner and you continue chatting and you decide who you want to vote for. The person or the organization with the most votes at the end of the night gets the pot.

MC: Oh interesting.

AB: Yeah, for whatever project that they have presented. It's this amazing program. They've now taken it to other parts of the world. Different neighborhoods in Detroit have started their own soups. It's just...it's so cool. It's one of my favorite things. My host, my couch surfing host, took me to Detroit Soup that night and I was just like, "this is amazing." I had no idea something like existed. How have I never done something like this in New York?

Just so many things happened that night that I was like, "I have to come back. I have to come back. I don't know when that's going to happen but I have to do it." And then not a month later, I was actually placed in Detroit as a Jesuit volunteer. I spent my first year in Detroit volunteering full-time, and in that time I initially intended to move back to New York, but I think I got maybe three months in before I literally called my mom and I was like, "I think I love it here. I think I'm going to stay."

The more time I spent here, the more people I met, the more I got involved in different communities, I realized that there was a Girl Develop It chapter here, and I was like well...there was just so much that I wanted to do that I decided to stay.

MC: It really seems like that spirit of volunteering and collaborating and all of that really kind of made you fall in love with the city.

AB: Absolutely. Yeah.

MC: The Detroit Soup concept sounds really good. I'm actually...I'm looking at the website now and it says, "$5 gets you soup, salad, bread and a vote." You don't even get that at Olive Garden! That's pretty good. And yeah, there's citywide soups or...sorry there's a citywide soup. But then there's also ones for individual neighborhoods. That's so cool. That is such a cool concept. I really love that.

Now, when you moved here, as I was doing my research, I want to talk about the house. Can we talk about Couch House Detroit? 'Cause the more that I read about this project, the more I got just super inspired about it. Can you tell the audience about that?

AB: I'm so glad you say that. I was actually super inspired by a very similar project in Cleveland. I love couch surfing. This has been a thing for me since I was probably like 14. I like read about it in a newspaper in Tampa and I was like, "Mom, Mom, Mom, we have to do this." She looked at me and she's like, "No."

I had to wait. I had to wait a little while until I was 18 and out of my house. but couch surfing — the gist is rather than staying at a hotel or a hostel or something like that when you travel, you connect with a person online and you stay with them. It's very much like...say I want to go back to New York, so I call up my friend John. I say, "Hey, are you going to be around this weekend?" It's an exchange though. Very much so. It's about making connection, at least for me.

All through college I was hosting in my dorm; I had some very gracious suite mates who got pretty into it, I would say. They were a good balance for me because if it were up to me, it would just be a never-ending cycle of new surfers. But I got more involved with the local community when I moved to Detroit after my year of service. All of my friends moved away and suddenly I was like really sad. I have to go find some people. And it just...it happened that a group of couch surfers was starting up a weekly board game night and I just made this incredible group of new friends. I started getting super involved again and when I moved into my house or rather...I'm jumping in.

As part of that, I went to an event called Couch Crash in Cleveland. Couch Crash is a couch surfing event where the couch surfers in that community will kind of pull together an agenda basically for the weekend. It's like a giant party. Couch surfers from all over can come and hang out and learn about the city and just have fun with other couch surfers.

I went to Cleveland Couch Crash with a bunch of other people from Detroit, and we met this incredible couple and they...they actually own this duplex and they live in half of it and they keep the other half as a place where couch surfers can kind of come and go and some people will stay for a really long time and they like cut the grass or work on the house or whatever. And they'll just kind of get ingrained into the community. And for some people, it's a shorter stay. It might be one or two nights, but they are just so entrenched in the community. They really are like this anchor.

I was like, I would love to have this in Detroit because even among couch surfers, just going back to that preconception that people have about the city, I've heard...I will never forget [this]. There's this big, tall German guy who was visiting a suburb of Detroit. He was like doing some sort of exchange or internship or something and he was a couch surfer and he had no intention of coming to Detroit and I couldn't believe it. I was like, "you're 20 minutes away, how could you not? You're going to be here for six months, a year and you're not going to come to Detroit?" I couldn't understand it.

It's really important to me to try and make this space where hopefully people can feel comfortable coming and seeing the city for themselves and learning about it and connecting with people who actually live here and getting like a real understanding, as much as they can of Detroit. It's a work in progress.

MC: Talk about the process that you kind of went through to start your couch house in Detroit.

AB: Oh my gosh. It was a trial. Everyone that knows me has heard me talk about this house in the last four years.

I had been looking for a while. I had been looking for houses through the Detroit Land Bank Authority. So these were houses that were up for auction. And there were a few things I was looking for. I was looking for a two family flat. I was looking for something that would allow me to continue to ride my bike downtown, which is where I work. And ideally, I was looking for something that was not so far gone that I would need to destroy it only to build a new house on top of it. And it took awhile.

I found a lot of places that I was like, "Oh, maybe." But they were just so far downtown I would have had to drive. And you already have to drive in Detroit for most things.

MC: It's the Motor City.

AB: Yeah. Some people get by on the bus. If I can help it, I will not ride a bus. And it doesn't matter what city it is. I have some very strong feelings about buses in general.

MC: Okay.

AB: So I found this house, finally, and it was like, I hesitate to admit this, but it was two days before the auction.

MC: Oh wow.

AB: So I went and I'm like snooping around this house because there was no time to get an appointment to be let inside the house. So I just had to kind of look at it, hope that everything was going to be okay. I did get an inspector in there as soon as I could. So I'm not completely irresponsible.

MC: And I guess when people think about stereotypes about Detroit I think housing is probably one of the biggest ones. There's abandoned houses, razed houses, boarded up houses, etc.

AB: Absolutely. And there's still so much of that. And there's a combination of things. Like, actually, my next door neighbor told me that she'd been considering leaving because this house had been in such disrepair for so long. And she had been in her house, I want to say, for three decades.

MC: Oh wow.

AB: She'd been in this house a long time. And she was contemplating leaving because this house next door was just such an eyesore. And I don't blame her. It's still, like I said, a work in progress.

But yeah, so I went through NACA. Which I can never remember what the acronym is.

MC: You said you went through NACA to purchase the house?

AB: Correct. I went through NACA. I think they had just recently opened the office in Detroit. So what was great about that was there was sort of a training bubble, if you will. You could not go through this process without learning a lot about home ownership and a lot about how a mortgage works. And because it was a multifamily unit, I had to take a landlord class. So there were a lot of great education initiatives kind of baked into that that were fantastic.

The organization of the whole ordeal was not the best. But it was this partnership with the Detroit Land Bank Authority and NACA. And I came to find out that this was the first home loan of this kind that they were going through with. Which explains some of the difficulties that I went through. But it was a very long and very stressful process to just get a house and to get the loan so that I could afford to renovate the house. Because the house itself was not very much, I was able to pay for the house itself in cash.

And so I then went through the process of dealing with a general contractor who did the bulk of the work or contracted out the bulk of the work. Which was another really traumatic experience, honestly.

And so now, I am actually...I just went to a meeting; we're at a point where my house is livable. I do live in it with my boyfriend and another couple. Which, if not for the,m I honestly don't know if I could afford to keep the house. They're just fantastic. And we're sort of very slowly chipping away at the things that still need to be done.

I just joined a group of women who are homeowners who bought their houses on their own. And so we're kind of trying to organize together to one find contractors that we can trust. Or at least, as far as we need to so they'd actually get the job done. But also kind of learning and teaching each other to do some of the things that we can do to complete projects in our homes.

MC: So it sounds like, because of the name Couch House, I'm guessing there's also couch surfing that goes on there too?

AB: Oh yeah, there is couch surfing. So the idea of the Couch House is that we eventually we live in one unit and then another unit is just entirely given over to couch surfers. Like, anybody can...well, not anybody...but with some exceptions, I've had some pretty great luck with couch surfers. I've hosted hundreds and I've never had a bad experience. I am pretty discerning about who I allow into my home. But I've very rarely even gotten a bad vibe from someone in a message. It's still a pretty great community, as far as my experience goes.

MC: Yeah.

AB: But the idea is the house is pretty open. And it's a space where people can come and connect with each other and the community, the surrounding community. Ideally, I would love to have some studio space in my lower unit. Or maybe painters can come and paint. Or if you're a musician, you could come and just jam with other surfers. We have a lot of people that kind of come through for our music festivals and that sort of thing. So that way people kind of have their own space and that would allow me to have people stay for longer periods as well.

MC: Yeah. I remember when Airbnb started. The first thing I thought was, "This is just couch surfing with money attached to it."

AB: Yes.

MC: Because I remember, there's a couch surfing website. So, as I'm sure people are listening, the concept of couch surfing is not new. But I remember, this maybe might have been the early 2000s or so. There was actually a website called, I think, it was couchsurfing.com or something like that.

AB: Oh yeah. It's still a thing.

MC: Oh it is? Oh, cool. Okay.

AB: That's the website I use.

MC: Oh, well there you go. You could coordinate with people around the world. If there was a city that you were going to be at, you could crash on a couch or something like that. And I was like, "yeah, couch surfing kind of walked so Airbnb could fly." I really think that. And I think it's good, like you said, you have to be discerning about who you choose to kind of include in this, right? This is someone you're letting into your home. You're letting them into a very private space. They're sleeping there. They're working there, possibly. So there's a lot of trust that has to go into that.

AB: Exactly. Yeah.

MC: So with Girl Develop It, you said that you're volunteering through there. What drew you to that organization? Were you working with them in New York?

AB: Briefly, yes. I took I think one or two workshops way back. This must have been in the first or second year of Girl Develop It. I was a student in New York. I was actually an information science major. And I think I was taking a PHP class at Fordham. And I was struggling. I was like, "I don't understand where we're going with this. I need some sort of outside guidance."

And I realized that, at some point during that semester, there was an organization called Girl Develop It who was teaching a PHP class. And I was like, "Well, I guess I have to go." And it was amazing. I loved it. It was so cool to no longer be one of three women in the room. Just that alone, was revolutionary for me. And on top of that, I was also getting this information, which was essentially the same information, presented in a way that really worked for me. It was really accessible. And I loved it. I didn't feel comfortable volunteering at the time, which is funny because I volunteered for everything else in college.

But it was amazing for me to come to Detroit and then have that opportunity again. To learn from these amazing women. And then to have the chance to give back and start to volunteer myself. I was a full time volunteer through the Jesuit volunteer corp at a high school called Detroit Cristo Rey High School. If you know the model, the Cristo Rey model, you know that the students have jobs.

MC: Oh.

AB: In the Detroit school. And this is a network of high schools across the country. But in the Detroit school, each student would work five days per month. And as a consequence, their school days are a little longer. But the idea is this is private, Catholic, college preparatory education. And it is partly paid for, largely paid for by the partnered companies and organizations that employ the students. There is still some commitment on the part of the family to pay tuition, but it is much less. And on top of that, the students then have this work experience and they're exposed to all of these different fields that a lot of them would not have been otherwise. Which is what I really love about the program, honestly.

I was working in the corporate work study office at Detroit Cristo Rey High School. And because of my degree, my boss at the time was like, "Oh, you can teach the children." And I sort of got roped into being the advisor for a program called Get It. It's a program that encourages girls to learn web development and robotics. And there's a competition at the end of each semester.

MC: Okay.

AB: And I was like, "I took one robotics class in college. I don't know how to teach anyone anything. I don't know what you're talking about." But I was also kind of like, "Well, I guess we're going to figure this out." And I reached out to...it was just detroit[at]girldevelopit[dot]com and I was basically like, "Please help me. I will do whatever you want me to do. I will volunteer for you. I don't care what it is. But I need to learn how to teach and I need to brush up on my web development skills." Because at that point, I had never done any professional web development. I didn't know for sure that what I knew was valid or what a professional would be teaching them. I just had no idea. And I was really lucky. Erika — I'm going to butcher her name and I really hope she doesn't hear this — Erica Languirand is one of the co-founders of the Detroit chapter of Girl Develop It.

MC: Okay.

AB: And she reached out to me and was like, "Oh, of course. Just come and sit in on a class. You're absolutely welcome." And it was so great. And if I remember correctly, actually, not only...so Erica also works at Detroit Labs. And not only that, but I'm pretty sure that the woman who was teaching that first class that I sat in on is now also working at Detroit Labs. So it's just all come full circle.

MC: It's a family.

AB: It is.

AB: But yeah, so after that, I just got more and more involved. I just dove in. I was volunteering to TA for every class. And eventually they asked if I would be comfortable teaching. And I was like, "Well, if you think I can do it..."

MC: Why not? Yeah.

AB: And by the end of that year, which would have been 2014, I think in the fall, they asked if I would consider being part of the leadership team. And that was how it happened.

MC: Wow. I'm getting like this overarching theme, not just from the work that you do, but also just kind of how you're moving through life at this point. Which is like "I don't know this thing. But I'm going to figure it out."

AB: Yeah. There's a lot of that.

MC: I mean...but it's served you well! You have founded this Couch House Detroit where it's not only where you live, but you're also able to accept other people in from the community or for elsewhere. You're doing this great volunteer work with Girl Develop It. You're also working doing web development at Detroit Labs. And all of it is kind of built out of that same spirit, it feels like.

AB: Absolutely.

MC: How did you first get interested in tech? I know you kind of briefly mentioned Fordham. Is that where you sort of first started learning about all of this?

AB: Yeah. So actually, my mother worked for IBM for 30 years.

MC: Oh wow.

AB: Yeah. She started in the 70s, which is astounding to me. She's like this 20-year-old black woman with a giant afro with a red streak in it and she's like some sort of systems engineer, which is just wild to me. She worked for IBM for 30 years not always in a technical position. She eventually was doing sales and like sales management towards the end of her career especially. But she always retained this love of the tech industry. Not even so much the industry, but just what you can do with technology, and particularly with code. So it was always sort of on the table for me. Which is...I truly recognize my privilege in that. I don't think I would be doing anything like what I'm doing if not for my mom. But I actually learned to code. I started teaching myself basic web development through Neopets.

MC: That's a big entry point for a lot of people that I don't see mentioned enough.

AB: Yeah, and I had no idea. I don't know why but for the longest time I truly thought this was just the strangest thing and no real web developer ever learned through Neopets.

MC: Oh please...

AB: But it's a thing!

MC: Yeah, it's definitely a thing, especially if you came about in the early...I'd say early to mid-90's and 2000's. Neopets, MySpace, BlackPlanet...all of these social-ish spaces that also gave you some element of creation and customization with HTML and stuff. Oh yeah.

AB: Yeah, absolutely. I will never forget the first time I saw somebody post on Twitter about that. I was like, "Yes! My people!"

MC: I think even Chrissy Teigen mentioned learning some basic web skills with Neopets. So everyone's doing it.

AB: That's fantastic.

MC: Who are some of your influences? When you look back at everything that you've done to this point, who are some of the people that have influenced you?

AB: That's a good question. Definitely my mom. I actually have the best mom. That's not even a thing. My mom is incredible in so many ways, and that is one of them. She is just [one of] the most generous and truly caring, deeply, deeply kind people that I can even imagine, let alone that I know. Literally, if I am a fraction, a quarter of the person and the mother and the friend that she is, I'm good. I'm good.

Influences...there are definitely other people that have been sort of a guiding light for me. Erika Languirand — hopefully that's how you say that — I've definitely asked her husband several times. So Erika Languirand is absolutely a guiding light in my life and I've told her that several times. She not only was that initial contact for me through Girl Develop It, when I was still a volunteer full-time and I wasn't sure I was going to stay in Detroit, I wasn't sure where I was going to live or where I was going to work or what I was going to do. But she was just so welcoming and so willing to kind of put herself out there and connect me with resources. It was amazing. I've been lucky enough to then kind of circle back and get to work with her and have her literally be my guide at Detroit Labs, kind of help me start to shape my career. I can't thank her enough.

Yeah, there are a lot of women in my life that have been that for me. One other that comes to mind is one of my best friends. Her name is Jeseekia Vaughn and she is a software engineer, also here in Detroit. She is the other current chapter leader of Girl Develop It Detroit. She just has so much going for her and it's so exciting to see her grow and learn and kind of come into her stride, I guess. 'Cause we actually started working together at a coding bootcamp called Grand Circus, also in Detroit. That's how I met her. We sort of naturally grew into friends and it was amazing to have this one other person. 'Cause at the time, when I started there, I was the only developer on the staff. We hired out, we hired teachers to come in and teach. But I was the only one who was a developer and also working there full-time. So it was amazing to be able to bounce stuff off of each other and to have this other young black woman who was in the same space.

It was just incredible to have that connection, and then to be able to kind of grow together and support each other through the years that followed, and continuing well into the future hopefully.

MC: So aside from everything that you're doing between work and the house and everything, what do you do in your spare time? Do you have any other projects that you work on, or creative projects, stuff like that?

AB: I do in fact. I was buying Christmas presents for my sister two years ago and I was kind of looking around Michael's like, "Oh, I'm going to get her some knitting needles." Then I get her set up with a little kit so she can start knitting, 'cause that was another volunteer thing that I did for a while. I was kind of looking around at the other stuff, just poking. I saw this book on creating wire earrings and I was like, "Oh, that kind of sounds like fun. I like wearing earrings and I don't have very many of them. I wonder what it would be like to make them?" That set off this just complete obsession. I went home that night and I wrapped up my little knitting supplies, and then I sat on YouTube for an embarrassing amount of time just watching all of these videos creating wire jewelry.

I did that kind of off and on for a while, just as a hobby. This year I joined a maker space called i3. It just sort of exploded. I got access to tools that I never would have bought on my own. I started learning new techniques and my jewelry really changed from this sort of fun crafty thing that I did for me and my friends and my family to this thing that I was like, "This is something that anyone might want to wear. This is something really cool and handmade, but also beautiful and valuable." Just recently I started to sell my jewelry and it's been a lot of fun. I work mostly with sterling silver. I have done a couple of projects in gold as well — 14K gold — and I love gemstones. I have a little bit of a problem. I will pore through just handfuls of gemstones and try to pick out the best ones that I can actually afford.

MC: I feel like gemstones are starting to increase more in popularity, thanks to Steven Universe.

AB: Yeah. There is a lot of that. My boyfriend actually got me into watching Steven Universe. And so I have, for Christmas this past year he got me a little handful of rose quartz.

MC: Oh, how nice!

AB: Yeah, so I've definitely got to make some little rings and bangles with that. I'm excited.

MC: What advice would you give to somebody that's...if they're listening to this interview and they're hearing about all of these things that you've accomplished, what advice would you give to somebody that wants to follow in your footsteps and do that in their community?

AB: I would say that it's really, really important to ask for help when you need it. I know that that can be incredibly difficult. I struggle with it myself. But the doors that open when you do that are just so far and beyond worth the pain that you feel when you kind of open yourself up like that. It's just, it's incredible. I think that is really what has allowed me to do all of the things that I do, is that I do a lot of things and I probably stretch myself too thin a lot of the time. But when I do, and in some cases before I do, I make sure that I have somebody in my corner who is either going to be able to be a resource for me, or be support, or even be a partner in the thing that I'm trying to do.

MC: I guess one thing I also want to ask is... this interview is going to be airing right at the beginning of the year, what do you want to accomplish for 2019? What do you have in mind?

AB: Well I've been doing a lot of speaking at different conferences around the country and I'm sort of shifting focus for this year. I am still going to be speaking but I really want to focus in on finding the conferences and the communities that I fit the best with, and that sort of gel the best with the direction I'm going in my career. So I'm trying to refine that list. I'm also working on a couple of local conferences that I'm helping to organize, which is very exciting. That is going to be WordCamp Detroit and also Self.Conference, which I helped to organize in 2018 as well. That was actually my first conference ever that I attended that I spoke at, so it's really, really special for me to be able to organize it now.

I'm actually really looking forward to growing my jewelry business into a real business that allows me to exercise my creativity as well. 'Cause I do get some of that at work, but it's also really incredible to be able to make something with my hands.

MC: Yeah. Most people that I talk to that are web developers or designers or anything, they have to have something tactile to work with I feel like, as a hobby.

AB: Yeah. Yeah.

MC: It's a good counterpoint.

AB: For sure. It's something really personal for people. For me, I wore the same necklace that my mom gave me for probably 12 years without really a break. It's really special to be able to create something like that for someone else.

MC: Well just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?

AB: Anybody is welcome to connect with me through Twitter. I'm not super creative with my names, it's just @aishablake. You can find my occasional blog posts at aishablake.com, and you can find my jewelry at zurijewelry.co.

MC: And that's Z-U-R-I jewelry?

AB: Correct.

MC: All right. Sounds good. Well Aisha Blake, thank you so much for coming on the show. I said this kind of earlier through the interview as you kept talking about your work and talking about how you came to Detroit, fell in love with the city. I just got these over-arching themes of discovery and community and giving back are the main things in your life in general, whether it's your career, whether it's even what you're doing with your jewelry and everything. It's about having people discover new things, discover new talents about themselves. It's about getting to know the community that you're in, and then also giving back to that community whether it's volunteering, whether it's couch surfing, anything like that. I think these are principles which, hopefully for folks that are listening, we can kind of take into this new year. I know that we are in some really weirdly divisive times, and I feel like these themes that hopefully we can take into the new year and try to turn things around.

MC: So thank you so much for just being so inspiring, for telling your story, and thank you for coming on the show. I really appreciate it.

AB: Thank you so much for inviting me.